We have income tax fever because the real issues are boring

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I have to admit that I am confused by this year’s election season income tax fever in Connecticut. I have heard over and over how 2018 is the moment where jobs and economic growth will be the major concern. So my question is: why are we constantly talking about the income tax? What does the income tax have to do with creating jobs?

I conducted my own very unscientific research to find companies that would expand or create new jobs and facilities in Connecticut only if the state cut the income tax. I could not find one.

What I did find were companies that said they needed: relief from property taxes, lower costs for electricity, assistance in remediation costs for brownfield pollution, lower sales taxes and eliminating contradictory or burdensome regulations.

I’m no economist, but I have this suspicion that these barriers to economic growth are the issues we should be discussing. But that stuff is boring and it’s much more fun to fantasize about living the perfect life without an income tax. You’ve heard the same line I have, “Everything was fine before the income tax.” Yes, Connecticut was paradise on earth back then.

Of course, I realize that no politician could rouse up a crowd by shouting a snappy slogan like “Turn Brown Fields Into Green Fields!” It’s easier to promise to cut taxes and increase services at the same time. And how can this be done? Finding efficiencies. It’s a miracle cure that’s guaranteed to work. All we have to do is to keep repeating the word efficiencies while clicking our heels together and we’ll all return home to the good old days.

Of course, the major point that we are forced to hear about endlessly is GE leaving Connecticut for Massachusetts. I looked into what bribes, I mean incentives, Massachusetts provided to help GE move north.

Did Massachusetts cut their flat 5.1 percent income tax on all income for GE? No. Boston gave property taxes incentives worth $25 million. Massachusetts agreed to provide GE $1 million in customized employee training. Then there was the infrastructure incentives: improvement projects at the selected site location for $120 million, adding bridge renovation and transit upgrades for $125 million.

Yes, breaks on property taxes, investments in training and infrastructure convinced GE to move. The income tax was not a factor. But in the land of steady habits, we like to blame all bad things on the income tax. And we also studiously ignore the other factor clearly stated by GE’s Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Bornstein. He said that Connecticut is boring and unappealing to young entrepreneurs and tech savvy members of the millennial generation. Those are exactly the employees GE needs to attract for their transition to a technology company. Moving to Boston makes them a more appealing employer to all those young geniuses spit out by the universities and colleges in the city.

So the obvious solution is for our political parties to promise to make Connecticut less boring. One option is for the state to subsidize more hipster bars, cafes and alternative art spaces. Or we could recruit boring millennials to move to Connecticut. Or we could take steps to treat our income tax fever and deal with some concrete issues that are complicated and, well, boring.

John Long is a lecturer at the University of Connecticut in Waterbury.


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